Renters displaced by the Memorial Day tornadoes could wait up to eight months before local officials can identify available housing.
“In Trotwood and Harrison Twp. area, (it) will be difficult to try and find and replace the amount of housing that’s going to be needed for the people displaced,” Cherish Cronmiller, the chief executive of Miami Valley Community Action Partnership, told the Dayton Daily News. “It’s just not feasible.”
Montgomery County saw four tornadoes touch down on the late evening of May 27 causing major damage in several communities including Brookville, Butler Twp., Clayton, Dayton, Harrison Twp., Riverside, Trotwood and Vandalia.
Five Montgomery County apartment complexes were heavily damaged, including Woodland Hills Apartments (with up to 480 units sustaining damage), Westbrooke Village Apartments (up to about 150 units affected), and River’s Edge Apartments.
A preliminary assessment from the Federal Emergency Management Agency found 942 homes and buildings in 10 Ohio counties that were “either destroyed or significantly damaged” and 837 more homes and buildings that suffered “minor damage or were slightly affected.
Displaced renters and homeowners can seek assistance from the nonprofit Miami Valley Community Action Partnership, an organization that is working on relocating renters and homeowners displaced by the tornado outbreak.
Cronmiller said her organization’s primary focus is on relocation.
MVCAP has created a map of available rentals in the Dayton area with information on rent prices, included utilities and the size of the unit.
The organization has been screening landlords before adding them to the list.
“If they’re not interested in renting to disaster victims, we don’t add them to the list,” Cronmiller said. “We want landlords that are willing to work with these individuals.”
She said that this might take some negotiating because many people were displaced from more affordable apartments. She said she hopes her organization can negotiate down rent prices for those who were displaced.
MVCAP has Section 8 vouchers in Darke, Preble and Greene counties, but many people might not be able to relocate.
Cronmiller said that in the event that displaced individuals can’t afford even reduced rental rates, MVCAP will have to consider providing monetary supplements, which would come from donations.
Most people would prefer to stay in the communities that they were displaced from, Cronmiller said, but she worries about the possibility of every person being able to return.
Cronmiller said the organization has outreach plans over the coming weeks.
“We’ll go to the shelter, we’ll sit with those individuals and talk about what’s affordable, [ask] ‘where do you want to be at, where can you go,’ and then if we need to [we’ll be] contacting those landlords and saying ‘how much can you work with us?’”
Cronmiller doesn’t expect this phase of the recovery to be done any time soon.
“We know that realistically we’re looking at upwards of at least eight months to get everybody housed,” she said.
Apartment residents asked to vacate by Friday
The Dayton City Commission on Wednesday criticized the department of housing inspection for how it ordered residents to vacate their tornado-damaged homes.
Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley said the letters residents received seemed harshly written, which was an inappropriate tone.
“It seemed really hateful, and these folks have been through a lot, so I think we need to be a little more cognizant of how we are delivering messages like this,” Whaley said.
On Tuesday, city staff posted orange vacate orders and letters on the doors of some residential units on Kelly Avenue in Old North Dayton. The area was one of the hardest hit parts of the city.
At the request of the Red Cross, Dayton inspectors went out and evaluated some housing units that were damaged by the tornado and determined they were unsafe and lacked utilities, said Todd Kinskey, the planning and community development director.
The orange notices say that people are not allowed to be on the properties and violators will be prosecuted.
Residents were provided with information about available resources and potential housing options, and notices were posted to deter people from staying in unsafe conditions, Kinskey said.
Vacate notices were posted to properties that had clear and severe structural or safety issues and violations and properties that inspectors couldn’t fully access and evaluate because they were not able to connect with tenants and owners, said Shauna Hill, division manager for planning and community development.
City staff will work with residents if they need more time to vacate or if their properties need small repairs to be habitable, Hill said.
But the vacate orders were issued solely because the properties are not safe for people to be inside, like dangerous structural issues, she said.
Hill said housing inspection visited the Kelly Avenue area on Wednesday to try to make contact with residents they were not able to connect with the day before. She said she believed some notices would be cancelled if inspectors were able to get a closer look at some properties and find out if they were in acceptable condition.
Getting legal help
Robyn Traywick, a staff attorney for Advocates for Basic Legal Equality, said many people don’t know what to do to in the aftermath of a natural disaster.
“People are really traumatized and they just don’t have the energy to be fighting these battles right now,” Traywick said. “I don’t know how many folks have broken down in tears.”
ABLE has been at community centers to provide legal information and education for people who might need assistance.
Traywick said most people have sought ABLE’s legal help over housing issues, whether that be trouble with landlords or insurance companies.
“A lot of people don’t know if they need legal assistance,” she said.
The organization is handing out information sheets on housing rights, insurance and several other disaster recovery topics.
If your home is still standing but needs repairs in order for it to be livable, the service provides a blank notice of landlord’s breach of obligation form for tenants to fill out.
The form clearly notifies a landlord of the issues and gives them 30 days to correct it. It also states that if the conditions are not fixed, then the tenant has the right to deposit rent checks in escrow or to terminate the rental agreement.
“[Landlords] are responsible for making sure I can live in the place,” Traywick said. “A leaking roof is not livable. Black mold is not livable.”
Traywick said that clear communication and documentation is critical when dealing with any kind of contractual relationships.
She suggests that tenants keep track of what officials they have talked to and what they talked about and to keep any kind of official documents a tenant gives or receives.
Traywick said that a majority of renters and homeowners that she has talked to don’t have insurance on their homes. She doesn’t foresee many homeowners being able to rebuild.
“The majority of people that I’ve talked with are people who work, or are self employed,” Traywick said. “It’s really hit them hard. They’ve lost their jobs. Their cars got destroyed. They only had liability [insurance] and now they can’t get to work, so now they’ve been fired.
She said the community needs both long and short term solutions for this recovery.
“This is going to change the fabric of our community in many ways,” Traywick said.
Renters are overwhelmed
The fabric change is a concern for Rev. Chris Hall of the Trotwood Missional Community.
As the city condemned some apartment buildings and left others alone despite damage, Hall said affected Trotwood renters became overwhelmed.
“People were just stuck in place, they didn’t know what to do,” Hall said.
Others were dispersed around the Dayton area, temporarily moving in with children or parents. He said that those who were able to quickly move from their damaged or destroyed homes had more housing options to choose from, and that now people don’t have many places to go.
Hall said he doesn’t think many who were displaced in Trotwood will have the financial ability to move back to the community.
“The city of Trotwood just lost a bunch of families who might not come back,” Hall said.
In a letter to President Donald Trump, Gov. Mike DeWine pointed out the struggle facing renters in Trotwood.
Only 51% of housing in Trotwood is owner-occupied, DeWine said.
“This leaves a large chunk of the population dependent on rental units,” DeWine said. “Damage assessments from the Trotwood area reveal this rental population was hard hit by the Memorial Day tornadoes.”
For Dayton-area renters who were able to stay in their homes like Virginia Doran, whose home sustained roof and siding damage, waiting for a landlord to issue repairs can take time.
“We’re probably looking at weeks, months, maybe more,” she said.
Her concern is over the gradual effects – water damage or mold – that a leaky roof can cause.
In other areas, vacate notices are still being issued. On Tuesday, the city posted vacate notices at a housing complex on Kelly Avenue in Old North Dayton. Tenants were ordered to vacate the premises by Friday.
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